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There is a mode of thought that says RPGs should be like a movie or a TV show. We don't give screen time to the boring stuff.

I had a scene play out where the players had to let a NPC know they were about to do a thing for his benefit. So that afterwards he would give them credit.

  • So we played out the scene of them arriving to meet the guy, and them pulling out their ace in the hole to show the NPC they were good guys, on his side.

  • then at a players prompting (who was also a GM) I ended the scene there. Skipping the boring stuff where they make small talk. Going straight to the action scene where they did the thing.

This was great. It was just like in the movies where they want to show that the party met the guy before, but noone actually cares what was said. They can fill in the blanks.

  • Then after we skipped to the scene several hours after the event, and the players met up with the NPC in the pub: and the News reports on the Bar's TV showing on the scene the 15 deaths in the wreckage they caused.

This was great. Because of this the pacing was much better for the session, and I left feeling please with the story.

How can I spot scenes that I should cut? I would like a kinda checklist that i can periodically run through to decide if it is time to cut to the next scene.

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NB the name of this technique you're looking to develop skill with is "aggressive scene framing." General information on "scene framing" is also helpful to read about. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 31 at 19:11

4 Answers 4

Here's a little tidbit that Microscope taught me: every scene has a particular question (or questions) associated with it. When that question is answered, the scene is over.

You want to skip over scenes with questions that are uninteresting, and jump to the ones which are interesting, and that's exactly what you did.

This is why nobody runs games with scenes in which the players are just sleeping: there's no interesting question being answered. I can safely say that no player wants to play a game in which they uneventfully watch their character sleep. Even if something does happen in the middle of the night, the game will jump directly to that, rather than dawdle over how long the players slept.

The question "How did we make friends with this NPC?" isn't really interesting if you already know the answer is just "small talk." It takes a rare kind of player to be interested in that question, so most of the time, it's safe to skip. The questions "Where did we learn about the ultimate result, and how did we respond to it?" are interesting questions (to your group), and deserve playing out as a scene.

In other words, your ultimate goal as a GM is to find scenes that develop parts of the plot that intrigue the players. If your players all happen to be the rare kind that enjoy playing out small talk conversations, then as a GM, it's your responsibility to give them that to develop an enjoyable game. But, if you judge that they wouldn't enjoy such a scene, it's equally your responsibility to skip over it and jump to something more interesting.

So, here's my process, and it's really quite simple for the most part:

  • What question are we answering with a scene?
  • Is that question going to be interesting to the players?
    • If yes, run it.
    • If no, does it contain information that is necessary to the progression of the game?
      • If it does not, then don't run it.
      • If it does, run it minimalistically - you know it's not interesting to the players to dawdle over, but it's a little necessary, so gloss over it and get to the important stuff so you can move on to a scene whose answer is 'yes.'

What if there isn't an explicit question I can think of?

I can guarantee every scene has a goal in mind. Even if it's just players attacking the entrance to a cave, the question is "How did we gain access to the cave?" - and this question should be played if the players want it.

That being said, if you really can't think of a good question (or set of questions) that represents what the PCs are doing, then there's an abstraction to this process, which is simply, will the players enjoy this scene? Note that this doesn't exactly help you determine what useful information comes out of the scene, but it still works as an abstraction in most cases.

Does this mean I literally have to stop the scene once the question is answered?

While in Microscope, this does indeed literally means we stop playing the scene, this approach doesn't work in every game. It's fully possible - and encouraged, for continuity - for you to move from one question to the next in the same scene.

For instance, imagine a scene between players and the king. The players start out with the question "Why did the King of Wisconsia summon us here?" - and let's say the king is a straightforward person, so immediately tells them the answer: "To destroy the goblin hordes." This doesn't mean the scene is over, but instead, means the players have another question: "How does the King expect us to defeat the goblin hordes?"

You end the scene when the players have no more questions of interest to answer, and at that point, move onto the next scene.

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+1 The "dramatic question" approach is a very good way to tell if a scene is relevant and when it should end. –  ltab Aug 31 at 19:09

I don't believe that there are some hard and fast rules about this. It's too much dependent on the situation, the context and the state of the players. But there are some ways that you can use in order to be better at spotting those "dead-meat" scenes.

Know the genre you're working with

No matter what game you are playing, it will fall to a certain genre. Maybe it is a fantasy game, or a horror one, or a slice-of-life kinda story, but the game will surely fall to at least one of the genres. That's great, because you can use that.

Try to watch some movies and TV-shows from those genres. Then try to think- what scenes are constantly skipped? What scenes are constantly expanded upon. Try to avoid in your games the first type, and to ensure that most of your game revolves around the second type of the scenes.

Ask yourself some questions

Your chosen genre is only one of those things you should consider. I usually add a few quick questions:

  • Will the scene be interesting to me? a scene that is not interesting to you will not be interesting to them. This is mainly due to the fact that you won't be able to bring the same levels of energy to this one scene as you can to the ones that you love and/or find interesting.

  • Will the story benefit from playing this scene? If, for example, the scene can go both ways, and each way will benefit the story and will be interesting to explore, this is surely a scene that you should consider. If, for example, if they fail to persuade the NPC nothing interesting will happen, skip the NPC scene.

  • Will this scene will be a nice change of pace? Sometimes we need some change of pace, time to relax or to bump action. Look at your players and try to discern if they need this. If so, play the scene. Otherwise, it might be better to just skip it.
  • Will this scene help a player to shine? look at your players and try to find a player that didn't get his or her time to shine in a long time. Will this scene help them to shine? If so, bring it on. If the scene will only help a player who regularly shines to get more screen time, skip it.
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On SAS (Storytelling Adventure System) format of World of Darkness (and other games) adventures scenes are structured with the following fields:

  • Challenge
  • Overview
  • Description
  • Storyteller goals
  • Player goals
  • Actions
  • Consequences

Storyteller goals are what the Storyteller (or adventure writer) intend to achieve with the scene. Can be the presentation of a character, the introduction of a theme, story advancement,..

Player goals are what the characters can get from the scene. It can be information, a contact, change the relationship with a NPC, make a NPC do something, making a tough decision, pick sides,...

I have thought of using this format on my own stories, but I have dropped the idea because my stories are not so static, so I add/modify the scenes too much depending on the player characters actions, and the NPC reactions to the player character actions.

Still, I think it can be useful to think of the scenes on those terms; What can the story get from the scene? What can the player characters get from the scene? And I have not expanded of that, but of course, what consequences the scene have for the story, for the PCs and for NPCs?

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One simple question: What is the conflict in this scene and why do I want to highlight it. If there is no conflict, just say it's done and move on. if you don't want to highlight the conflict, roll dice and move on. Should you find the scene both interesting and filled with conflict, go to town.

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